Book Review: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

Publication Date: May 31st 2022

If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

My thoughts & feelings …

If you’re getting to that stage in your reading life where you feel like you’re growing out of you’re preffered genre, none of these new urban-fantasy novels that you loved back in the day are hitting the spot anymore, do yourself a favour and go check out Her Majesty’s Royal Coven.

Set in modern day England, a secret coven of witches work within the British Government, their existence going all the way back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. When a teen warlock with unprecedented levels of power is discovered, four life-long friends are divided by their beliefs as they fight not only against demons and magic, but also fight for what they think is right.

I loved this book so much. It was so nice to read a book that has all of the urban-fantasy elements I love and look for – magic, spells, paranormal history – but written for a mature audience. Maybe I’m just not reading the right stuff but this felt like a breath of fresh air.

The magic system itself was simple enough – different witches with a variety of abilities; some are oracles, some are healers, some work best with the elements etc – but it was the attention to detail when it came to how magic interweaved with our own history and the political complexities and levels of beurocracy the characters are also having to deal with that made it feel so rich and intricate.

One of my favourite aspects of this book was the four main adult characters – Niamh, Elle, Leonie and Helena. First of all each character has a very clear sense of identity which is especially appreciated when the story is told through their alternating chapters. More than that though, each character represented the fact that there’s no one correct way to be a woman or a witch and I enjoyed those underlying themes.

Another aspect of these characters that I really loved was how the childhood friends dynamic was explored and even caused its own form of conflict. I felt like the book touched on the preassure you feel to uphold those life-long bonds, there was the self-awareness from these characters realising that if they met today they probably wouldn’t be friends, and also it explored how knowing somebody from such a young age almost makes you blind to who they become.

Finally, there was a lot of representation in this book, including the incorporation of a transgender character. Revealing which character is transgender is a spoiler so I’m not going to reveal which character it is, but just know I love them and their story arc. Trigger Warning for transphobia in this book as it defintely parallells a lot of the biggotry that we’re seeing at the minute online but contextualised within witches and a coven.

So I already loved this book but it now has an extra special place in my heart because last night I attended Juno Dawson’s event at the York Literature festival!

It was such a cool experience getting to hear her talk about her inspiration for the novel – originally inspired by the idea of Desperate Housewives but Witches – her talking about the lockdown writing process, and what’s happening with the TV adaptation. She read the first opening chapter to the sequel, The Shadow Cabinet, which was super exciting and to top it all off I got a signed, personalised copy of the book!

If you haven’t picked this book up already but are in the market for a fast moving urban-fantasy with well developed characters, nostalic witchy magic and politics that really do mirror our real life definitely check this book out. I can’t recommend it enough!

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